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Gravel Worlds, and what Singlespeed has taught me

2023 has been a great year of bike racing at Rodeo Labs. We’ve scooped up quite a few podiums and victories between Donkeys and Flaanimals, and beyond race results it’s been great watching owners and community members line up and ride for reasons other than trying to win. As for myself, for a number of reasons this has been the year of ditching geared drivetrains and instead racing singlespeed. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

Typically by the end of summer I don’t have a lot of bikes left in me. Spring is the beneficiary of most of my stash of racing stoke for any given year. The melting of snow, the building of fitness, and the arrival of so many of the “it” events on the calendar make for a predictable couple of months of gravel wrasslin’ in states mostly to the east of me. Since I seem to be incapable of skipping Unbound these days, that event tends to be the peak of racing excitement, and directly after it is over I feel like the air is rushing out of my mojo just as quickly as it escapes an untied balloon.

Summer arrives shortly thereafter, and with it the opening of what I would call “adventure season” in the Colorado high country. But this year that didn’t happen. Instead I jetted off to Armenia to be the race director for the first ever running of that ultra-distance bikepacking race. That’s an experience that I’m still processing, but my short summary of the event would be one of exhilaration, fear, exhaustion, stress, and ultimately relief as we somehow pulled off running the race with no major negative events and plenty of stories to take with us into the rest of our lives. Organizing and running the two-ish week race was such a heavy lift that I intentionally did not plan any more bike related event participation for the remainder of 2023. Once Armenia wrapped up, I arrived back at Rodeo HQ utterly spent from the experience.

Other than my obvious exhaustion, Armenia did have another major effect on the year: It completely reset my bike stoke for 2023. Instead of coming off of the backside of the Unbound wave and drifting into bike fatigue, I took those three total weeks off the bike and began to miss my sport dearly. I came back to the USA tired, yes, but also completely excited to begin riding bikes again!

At about this time Logan, a friend of mine and of Rodeo, let me in on the fact that he was heading to Gravel Worlds in Lincoln, Nebraska in late August. “Gravel Worlds, in Nebraska”? Yeah. That’s a pretty normal first reaction to the event. But if you know your gravel history, you know that Gravel Worlds is one of the original old-school gravel events and has been running continuously as the officially unofficial Gravel World Championships since 2010. They’ve got street cred! Do they have UCI Gravel World Series Tour Calendar #Pro street cred? No, they do not, but I think that is the point of the event: Gravel never intended for itself to be the UCI recognized, money printing, media bandwagon, Circus Circus that it has turned into in the modern era. Once upon a time the concept of gravel was as simple as “we live in the Midwest, we have endless dirt roads out our doors, so let’s go ride them with friends”. It was a beautiful time. In some ways, it still is, because in a lot of ways I think that Gravel Worlds is still the best possible representation of that ethos that you can find in a modern gravel racing event.

Whatever the case, I’ve always wanted to attend this event but have never been able to swing it. That afore-mentioned late summer riding fatigue combined with end of summer and back to school family congestion never really allowed for me to attend without making an outsized withdrawal from the Engaged Dad bank account. Until now! After Logan mentioned the event to me I immediately made it a soft goal for training in the back of my mind. I then checked the family calendar, found it free of conflicts, and plotted the moment wherein I would ambush Mrs. Intern with my extremely sensible request to go race bikes for the weekend.

Many positive and negative things can be said about the hype and cost surrounding the modern gravel race experience, but one thing cannot be argued: If you have a big race event on the calendar it is an extremely powerful force for focusing your intention and training around a singular goal. Just knowing that race day was approaching lit a fire under me, and I threw myself at the task of coaxing another round of race conditioning out of my ever-more-tired body.

Having that Gravel Worlds race in the cross-hairs turned July and August in to prime bike months for me. In past years you would have found me exploring rugged high mountain passes, and those are always some of my favorite days on the bike, but this year I stuck mostly to road riding to prepare myself for the 150 mile Gravel Worlds course. Love it or hate it, road riding is such a time efficient and phenomenal way to tune up your legs, heart, and lungs. The new-found motivation once again had me getting up at the break of dawn to put in some climbing efforts in the nearby Front Range canyons, or it simply had me adding 10-20 miles each way to my otherwise ten mile commute to and from work each day.

The only way to get views like this is to get up very early and earn them!

For me the passion to push myself isn’t so much rooted in discipline as it is rooted in emotion. Unlike some people I can’t easily tell my body “hey you need to get up and go suffer for the greater good”, instead I need to be borne along much like surfing a wave; a wave of enthusiasm. For those two months of preparation and training before the event, the excitement of heading to a new state and a new event were all I needed to create that wave, and I surfed every second of it.

As race day drew near I knew that my body was increasingly ready for the Gravel Worlds, and it was time to get down to nuts and bolts of gear setup and setting actual goals for the day. Having raced singlespeed at Mid South and Unbound this year I thought that the perfect jewel on the 2023 race crown would be to line up for a third race and to make this the year that I raced with no gears. I threw up a little mini poll to my Instagram community to see what people thought about gears vs singlespeed for the race, and a clear majority of masochists voted for singlespeed, I’m sure because from the perspective of the audience, watching me suffer on one gear was simply more fun than watching me suffer with the luxury of 12 speeds. Fair play!

Singlespeed is an odd sub-discipline inside the already odd sport of cycling. In past years I will freely admit that I look at the somewhat self-important tribe of singspeeders with not much more than curiosity and annoyance. Why race on one gear when we have the luxury of having 10, 11, 12, 13, or 24?! What is the point of taking cycling, sport that is inherently challenging on the best of bikes, and making it harder by taking away the parts that make it easier to get up and over hills? The whole singlespeed thing is nonsense! If you ever talk to a singlespeed bike pilot you know how insufferable many of them can be. I would equate the discipline to being into Crossfit, being a Vegan, or being into vintage vinyl: All three are undeniably good and even cool things to do, but the people that make up those populations often can’t resist letting everyone know how elevated their life choices are, to the point of being annoying about it. Singlespeeders are the same. Not only that, but if you’re ever in a low moment in a bike race, and a singlespeeder comes charging by you out of the saddle, laying down unmeasurable amounts of torque, you can’t help but feel bad about yourself because you know that you can’t, you wont, ever measure up to their awesomeness. I had no plans to race singlespeed, because why would I(?), until I started losing reasons to go back to Unbound in recent years. Having completed the event seven, it starts to feel repetitive to go back out and tackle the same general terrain on the same general gear you’ve used in years past. After watching my friends Bryan and Lucas race Unbound singlespeed over the last few years, and seeing the smiles on their faces during and after, I began to wonder if there was more to the genre than bravado and self importance after all. Maybe singlespeed was actually… fun?

Lucas races singlespeed and he’s ALWAYS smiling and having fun.

My suspicions on the matter were confirmed after I finally (no pun intended) ponied up and raced Mid South this year on a prototype singlespeed TD4. I reasoned to myself that if I was going to attempt the Unbound 200 with only one cog, I had better test myself first in a 100 mile event. In March we made the hallowed pilgrimage to Stillwater, hugged our amazing local hosts, and proceeded to have an absolutely delightful day rowing our bikes, one pedal stroke at a time, across waves of Oklahoma’s beautiful rolling hills.

Mid South Rollers

The experience was transformational, but not in the way you might expect. Racing singlespeed didn’t convert me into a Kool-Aid drinking, applesauce eating member of the One Cog Cult. I didn’t take any personal pride in conquering the course analog-style, and with a sense of superiority. No, singlespeed wasn’t radder, better, or studier. Instead it was simpler, quieter, slower, and more profound. I’ve tried to put the experience into words in other places, but in a word the whole day was almost Zen. In my younger years I felt that to do a bike race, especially a long, dirty, hilly, off-road bike race, was to confront and overcome my body and the course and nature itself. It was my willpower against physics, and the best way to win was to be unrelenting. That all worked well for a brief year or two, and then in my later 30s and early 40s it began to work less well. Unless your first name is Keegan, and you win every race you enter without breaking a sweat, the urge to dominate both nature and the competition will eventually and most likely lead you to a state of humility, if not humiliation. After a thrilling Unbound in 2016 that had me finishing 5th overall and feeling drunk on my own potential, my ego became quite inflated and I approached subsequent years with a now-embarrassing sense of pride, bravado and entitlement, only to be brought down not only by superior competition and nature itself, but also by my own frail, sputtering body. The invincibility I felt in earlier years of bike racing is long gone, and since 2017 my races are not defined by success so much as they are by physical meltdowns and results that no longer even impress my kids. Honestly, I’m kind of washed up.

Or am I? Washed up was the lens I was looking at racing through, but maybe I needed a new lens, and that’s what Singlespeed racing has given me this year. If racing with gears was me fighting against nature and myself, singlespeed is a discipline that has taught me to stop fighting so hard, and instead flow with the currents and rhythms of the course and my own body. Often out there on course at Mid South and Unbound people would pass me rolling across the countryside on my one cog and remark with a chorus of “badass!”, or “wow you’re crazy!”, because they assume that what I’m doing is far more difficult than what they are doing. But let me just state this very clearly, and very definitively:

Singlespeeding is, in many ways, easier than racing with gears.

Wait, what? How? Nonsense!

No, really. When you are riding a bike with gears there is always the compulsion to shift into a gear appropriate for the gradient and to keep applying pressure to the pedals at all times. Having multiple gears invites and allows us to always be striving, always be pushing your self, always be crushing. Resting feels like a cop-out. Coasting is a sin. Gears are for using, and if you don’t you’re weak.

Singlespeed on the other hand is so utterly limiting that for about 90% of any given ride or race, you’re probably poorly geared for the exact conditions that you are in. If you put on a gear that lets you get up climbs easily then that same gear is nearly useless for cruising down descents or across fast flats. If you gear for fast flats and descents, that same gear is probably too difficult for gutting your way up and over the toughest climbs. What you are left with is the oft-agonizing decision to pick a gear for any given course that allows you to somehow get over the climbs and at the same time leaves you something useful for a less-than-light speed traverse of the flatter sections of the course. Here’s a bonus fact: No matter what gear you chose, it’s going to be on the wrong gear for most of the day. Does this sound miserable? It did to me and it still does! But this is where things get sublime: If you put that geared thinking aside, and accept that racing with one gear is to race differently, that one gear can temper you, even you out, and even teach you about yourself in ways that you never imagined. Once you accept that for a certain percentage of the day you will simply be coasting down hills and across the prairie, the very act of doing that becomes something that you look forward to, and the guilt of not pedaling harder is at once banished from your psyche. With that same single speed you approach hills differently now: You accept that they are coming, and you accept that you will need to dig to get over them, so you do, all the while knowing that the pain of doing so is almost always short-lived, and almost always rewarded with rest on the next downhill. Singlespeed racing is meditation: Dig, rest, dig, rest. Accept the undulations of the course, listen to how your body feels, be careful with your matches, and respect nature instead of fighting it.

Does this sound foamy, mushy, and touchy-feely? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But as someone who still enjoys riding a bike as hard as I can, and as someone who still wants to compete and even still have a shot at winning something now and again, I can at least try to reassure you that this style of riding is still immensely challenging and rewarding, but for me and where I am right now in life, it is also interesting and fun. I’m invigorated by the thing that until recently I held in contempt. Life is funny that way. Maybe I should also take up Crossfit and become a Vegan.

On Friday morning Logan and I loaded up the Black Pearl for a 5am departure to Lincoln, Nebraska. Gravel Worlds had finally arrived, and I was completely ready in my mind and in my body. The collective Rodeo Labs Racing Crew has scored some incredible SS results in major gravel races all year long, and now going into this weekend I was finally ready to challenge myself with the idea that it might be possible for me to win this race. I had placed 2nd at Mid South and 4th at Unbound. I did not look at the start list for Gravel Worlds because I didn’t want it to be in my head if a stronger competitor’s name was on the roster. In a way Gravel Worlds wasn’t about me vs the competition, or me vs the course. Instead this race was about me pushing myself a little bit harder to see what I could accomplish against – and for, myself. My gears at Mid South and Unbound had been 44×19, a tough gear choice but one that I knew was safely within my limits for getting over most hills. I chatted with Lucas Clarke, my friend who had taken his TD4 to SS victory at Unbound and then SBT Gravel the week before. He’s on a whole other level as an athlete and he chose a 44×18 for both of those events. He encouraged me to do the same for Gravel Worlds. To me that choice is full of danger. Ever since my gradual spate of fading race results began in 2017, I just haven’t had that bottomless confidence in myself that I used to. I really didn’t know if I was physically capable of pushing that gear. But, Lucas said I could do it. In a way, as friends often do, he had more confidence in me than I did in myself, so I took his advice, put on the 18, and hoped for the best.

The weather in Nebraska this time of year is typified by extremely hot temperatures and extremely high humidity, both of which melt me like candle wax. But on the morning of Gravel Worlds the temperature was in the mid 60’s, and our neighbor’s rain gauge showed that we had received and astonishing 4″ of rain the night before the race. 10 hours earlier the course was dry, dusty, fast, and hot, but today it was cool, soaked, and slow.

I lined up with the 10 hour group, calculating that if I could average 15mph for 150 miles I could make that time. Honestly I thought I could go much faster, maybe 16-18mph average, but per usual, nature had other plans. As the half mile of pavement at the start passed and the mass of excited racers hit the first dirt, we were all greeted by a sudden and intense drag on our wheels that comes from not just mud, but Lincoln’s unique mud-sand mix. I looked down at my head unit for an instant speed / power assessment: 12mph, 375 watts. That was disgusting news. I couldn’t process it, so I ignored it. I looked for other singlespeed riders and saw a few, comments were exchanged about doomed gear ratio choices. I put my effort into the early hills, and surfed down the back sides of them in endless succession. One by one I passed taillight after taillight until the number of taillights that I could see down in front of me dwindled to exactly zero. The geared pros had dropped me, and pretty much everyone else was behind me. I was alone, and would be for most of the day.

Welcome back to singlespeed life, Stephen

For an event that has been going on for thirteen years, I’ve heard surprisingly little to no chatter about how hilly the Gravel Worlds course is. When I thought of the event I figured it was about like Unbound, being a number of hours directly north of Emporia, Kansas. I was wrong. Unbound has about 10,000 feet of climbing in 200 miles. Gravel Worlds has slightly more climbing, but in 50 fewer miles. The week before the event I scoped the route on Ride With GPS, and when I looked at the elevation profile it was such a dense squish of up and down gradient that the lines blended together in a messy jumble.

There wasn’t really a way to make sense of the course other than bracing for the fact that it would be an absolutely endless series of rolling hills, one directly after the next, all day long. Once I had this information I straight away set about banishing it from my mind. Ok, 10,000 of climbing. I can do that, sort of, if I had to, because I have to, because I signed up, and it’s Saturday morning and I’m 10 miles into the race and I have 140 miles to go. Suck it up Stephen! This was never going to be easy.

In recent races I’ve begun the practice of trying to the best of my ability to only look at the distance screen as rarely as possible to check how far I’ve gone and how far I have to go. I find if I look at how far I’ve gone too often, miles don;t tick off, and seconds slow to hours. For me ignorance is bliss and it is better to focus on the tasks of the moment: Pedal hard, eat, drink, look around, soak it all up, and repeat.

When I finally did look at the distance that I had covered for the first time I expected to see my Wahoo announce 40 or 50 miles. I had covered only 30. That cut deep. The wet beach sand mud situation had stolen so much speed and distance from me. Progress was very hard fought. I caught a group of pros who had slowly, and with blinking red taillights, announced their presence on the horizon. They looked very tired. I looked very tired. As we gutted our way over yet another rolling hill, I had no choice but to keep my cadence high lest I stall out. I inched slowly by the others. To the outsider this probably looked like a passive aggressive flex. From the inside it was just me trying desperately not to get off the bike and walk. In that moment I felt like I had become that singlespeed guy, the one that I detested: they that pass you at your lowest moment, and mock your pain with their apparent strength. But I wasn’t strong, I never feel strong out there, I’m just trying to keep going in my own way, a different way from you, because that damned 18t gear I picked for the race forces me to sprint and strain and lunge when doing any of those three things is the last thing in the world that I want to do.

The first aid station came and went. I didn’t stop. I had plenty (too much) water and food because of my fear of running out. A few miles later a particularly viscous roller came into view. As soon as I saw it I knew: I would have to walk that one. I pedaled as far up as I could, stalled out, swung my leg off the bike, and reveled in the delicious act of simply walking up a hill instead of riding it. Being a badass is overrated. Walking is wonderful.

Miles later the second aid station came and went. I needed a reward for my efforts thus far. The rain had stopped, the course had dried out, and my chain sounded like death. The Silca mechanics doused my drivetrain in esoteric premium miracle polymers. My chain went mute. I refilled bottles and hoarded three more gels from the table even though I had at least ten stuffed in various pockets on my bike and person. Gels are disgusting, but gels are a safety blanket.

Not many miles later, on a comparatively forgettable hill, I was caught by Tim, another singlespeeder. I really had no way of knowing my actual ranking in the race at that point, because there was no sense of how many people were ahead of me, but my gut said that I could be in the lead, and that if that were true then that lead was now in jeopardy. The logic was simple: If someone is strong enough to catch you at mile 70, they’re probably trending towards a better outcome in the next 80 miles of the race. Thankfully Tim is an old bike friend. He’s a very dedicated singlespeeder and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him running gears. We talked, not like competitors, more like peers or buddies on a ride. We were both tired, but we were both also fine. To me there was no point of initiating any sort of competitive joust in those miles. What’s the point? If he felt better he would eventually leave me, and vise versa. In those miles one significant thing happened: I made peace with the fact that I probably wasn’t the strongest singlespeed rider in the race, and this probably wasn’t some sort of Cinderella story, and I was not likely to win Gravel Worlds. Processing that at mile 70 was healthy, I think. It sort of emancipated me from the weight of my own expectation in a neutral moment, not five miles from the finish line.

Miles passed. Corn fields passed. Much has been said about this area being all corn fields, but I didn’t find that to be true. Out in those rural areas that the course passed through I saw an absolutely lovely mix of fields, streams, lakes, forests, farms, and yes also plenty of corn. This wasn’t the Flint Hills, but it was quite pretty in a different way. The headwind turned into a crosswind turned into a tailwind. Tim and I swapped pulls less. I went into my own zone, almost riding alone. When I snapped out of it I realized that I was, in fact, actually riding alone. Tim was gone. I neither celebrated or mourned. It wasn’t me against Tim, the next 80 miles were me against me, and I was starting to feel the onset of deep fatigue.

A pack of riders passed me suddenly. That pack of pros with gears had caught me in the tailwind. This is how it goes: If you have gears you mash the tailwind sections Attached to the back of the geared riders was Tim, deftly conserving energy, deftly surfing the highs and lows of the singlespeed experience. I jumped on the train as well but instantly knew that my gearing was insufficient to the task. I would sprint to 150 RPM, coast a little in the draft, rest, fall off the back, then sprint again. I was 1-2mph too slow to stay with this group. Tim seemed fine. But then a funny thing happened: the ground went from grey rock to black earth. The ground went from firm to soft. We hit mud. At first the mud was mild. I had 47mm tires and stayed on top of it just fine. The group slowed a bit and I tucked in. Mud flung up and exploded all around me, torn up by a gaggle of hurried bike racers. It was a beautiful scene, and I smiled. We hung a left and the mud got worse. One by one riders succumbed in frustration. Paint sticks came out, fingers caved mud from clogged tires and frames. Riders I hadn’t seen since the start appeared on the side of the course at a standstill. This was unexpected and for me not unwelcome. My tires kept turning, I passed a dozen people. I knew that velocity was key to shedding mud so I mashed and torqued and gave the cranks my best effort, sailing through the muck. I confess I experienced some pride in that moment. My bike was just so damn good at mud. We had seen it when we cruised through the Unbound mud bog a few months back, and I saw it again in that moment. Clearance is king, and singlespeeds also collect less mud. For five very short minutes that day, I may have had the best bike in the race.

The mud eventually caught me right at the end, within 10 feet of reaching pavement. I didn’t dwell on it. I pushed my bike into the paved road, forced the frame to scrape mud from the tires, and remounted. My bike wasn’t cleaned off, but I knew that if I could get back up to 15-20mph again most of the mud would dry and eject itself into oblivion. It worked! Minutes later my bike was mud free and I was cruising again. I was also totally alone again.

Miles later we passed through a town. From a roadside tent came shouts of “water, Coke!”. I knew I needed both of those things. “None of this is free” said the man “everything is a dollar, this is for the Boy Scouts”. I had two dollars. I bought two Cokes. “I’m out of money do you know where I can get water?” I said to the man. “No” he responded. I looked across the street at a gas station and proceeded in that direction. By the door lay an opened bag of ice and a half empty jug of water left by another racer. I partook deeply. The ice cubes were utterly delicious.

All those people in the mud? They passed me again, except for Tim. One by one the hares on gears overtook the tortoise on the singlespeed. By this point we were all friends on the road, comrades in the quest for the finish, some 55 miles away.

I kept looking back for Tim. I kept looking at every bike that passed me. Was I in the lead? Was I about to be overtaken? I audited my thoughts for the day so far and found it remarkable how utterly shallow my thinking was while out racing. I mostly only thought about how my belly felt ill, or what food I could trick myself into eating, or I played games with myself about how far into the day I might be based on the shadows I was casting into the dirt road beneath me. I never looked at my GPS clock all day long. I didn’t want to know how long I had been out there, or how much time I had left to be out there. The only thing that mattered was pedaling up the hill that I was presently on, and resting in the small space that I was gifted before the next hill reared up behind it. This really was the entire day for me: Shallow thoughts, self doubt, determination, endless hills.

The day wore on and I wore thin. Eating became a problem, which has become a very predictable theme in recent years. It is inevitable that after a certain amount of time nothing wants to go down the hatch. For a while I went with that, hoping that somehow two Cokes were good for 50 miles. They weren’t, and I could feel the precipitous falloff as their empty sugars incinerated inside of me. I was hollow, but I couldn’t eat. I snapped myself out of the daze. “Is this how you want it to be then?” I said to myself. “You did all this work to get here, you’re 105 miles into this thing, and you’re going to give it away because you don’t want to eat anymore?”. That felt really short sighted. I needed a mind over body moment. I talked to myself out loud “Eat a gel, Stephen, or you’re going to get caught”. That worked. I ate a gel. It was so gross. Gels are awful. But gels do work, and so does self discipline, and so does mind over body. A few minutes later I had legs again, not strong legs, but legs to keep going.

I can’t remember much of anything for a long time after that. I didn’t know how long I had to go and it didn’t matter. I started doing mental math gymnastics with myself. I’ll bet I have 40 miles to go. 40 miles is a round trip commute to work and back home. That commute isn’t very hard, so it shouldn’t be that hard to get to the finish, right? On some days 40 miles is only two hours of riding! I looked at my speed: 14mph into a headwind. That is closer to 3 hours. Oof. C’mon Stephen, keep it together!

At the final aid station, with about 10 miles to go, I couldn’t drink another Coke. On a normal day 5 cokes would put me in the ER, and I was pushing my luck today. Instead I grabbed a fake Sprite. I chugged it. So cold and bubbly and delicious! Nectar of the gods! Liquid nitrus! Easily 10 miles worth of sugar in a single can! The fake Sprite tasted funny. I looked at the can. Sugar free. I raged internally. Who drinks sugar free pop in a bike race!

An airshow was in full swing near the finish. The actual Blue Angels buzzed the corn field next to me repeatedly, not 100 feet over my head. F-18s are huge, and so loud! ‘Murrca! What ‘u gonna do when they come for you, yeah?

I kept looking back for dots, I upped my intensity, bluffing with strength I no longer had. 5 miles to go, 3 miles to go. Someone was going to catch me. One of those young kids with massive quads that I had seen earlier would surely catch me. I thought I was probably winning, but I didn’t know, and if I was then surely that couldn’t last. I sprinted for a few seconds and sat back down.

The dirt ended, the pavement began. The road sloped downwards, we passed two roundabouts. Cowbells, a right hook, sponsor banners, and the finish line. I didn’t sit up and celebrate, I didn’t know if there was anything to celebrate! I didn’t feel happy, and there was no big wave of emotion. The weight of the monkey on my back disappeared as it climbed down and skittered off to grab a beer. There was nobody familiar to talk to at first. I found a curb and sat down and started shivering even though it was 85 degrees out. Per usual, I had in some way gone further past my limits than was healthy, and now that the fight or flight of finishing was passed, my body was free to retaliate for what I had just done with it. Everything felt physically really, really bad! It is strange how you can feel so bad and so good at the same time. The chasm between what we experience physically and mentally is infinitely large.

Logan found me on the curb and sat down. “I’m pretty sure you won”, he said. “Yeah”, I responded.

Winning something, winning anything, is so rare that I can’t really relate to it. Is it important? Is it impressive? If I think small it is: Single Speed Gravel World Champion Of The World!!! Or am I? Sort of, sort of not. Singlespeed is a small category, and this is a mid-sized race in the Midwest. There are innumerable riders fitter and more capable than me. Had Lucas come to this race he would have finished an hour ahead of me for sure. I had only averaged just over 15mph. That is objectively not very fast at all. There are plenty of ways to look at my ride on Saturday and instantly deflate any building sense of ego I have about the day. I won, but not some huge thing. What I really won was setting a goal a couple of months ago, getting up early, going out for rides with friends, taking the long way to work, challenging myself with a tough gear choice, eating and drinking somewhat smart, and keeping my head in the game well enough to make it to the finish. In that way I’m really proud of winning. Nobody can diminish what those smaller achievements mean to me.

Lucas was right, by the way: I was able to push that 18t gear that scared me so much, and it took someone else believing that I could do it to convince myself of the same. I need to pay that one forward.

Maybe the thing I’ve won the most at in this race and this year, is finding a new way to engage bike racing, and letting these new experiences continue to teach me things about myself that I can apply in other more important areas of my life. I think in a lot of ways that’s the most that I could hope for in a year of bikes.

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  1. Stephen. This is a Meditation. Not only as an Amazing hard earned result, a Win!, but again, as a written account. Goosebumps , man ! Congrats Again

    • Thank you Andy! I appreciate that you took the time to come along!

  2. Great read! I won’t be trying singlespeed myself anytime soon (current fitness level is ZERO due to having a toddler), but I’m glad to know my flaanimal has the option has the option for the future. It sounds like an excellent way to be on the bike.

  3. Single speed was how I got into racing and this hit! I’ve been thinking about fixed in 2024 and how good a Flaanimal would be set up fixed…!

    • Would be so fun to see you shredding one fixie! That’s about thirteen levels cooler than singlespeed!

  4. Great write up. What handlebars are you running? Do they help with the twitchy feeling of putting flat bars on a drop bar frame?

    • Thanks! I can’t say that I’ve noticed any twitchy feelings either way. The handlebars are FSA, and the little aero bars are Vision TT bars on a Fred Bar attachment. Both feel stable in all positions.

  5. What an outstanding article! Every paragraph, just fascinating reading. Well done.
    I just converted a hardtail mountain bike to singlespeed, and I’m loving it! I still have a stable full of geared bikes, but this one feels special. Perhaps I’ll try it in a gravel race, too. Throw some aero bars on there and go!

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